The Human Rights Enterprise
The Human Rights Enterprise
The Human Rights Enterprise and a Critical Sociology of Human Rights
As teachers, we share the experience of students asking about the "point" of human rights in the United States, since no one seems to know or talk about them, and since they carry little weight in US courts. While we disagree with the notion that formal international human rights are irrelevant, we owe our students and readers the courtesy of honest reflection. The United States is far from internalizing and employing international human rights practice, and has a contradictory relationship to human rights as a body of international law.
This book goes into production as a leaked Senate Intelligence Committee report now details the extent and highly illegal nature of the CIA's use of "harsh interrogation techniques" - torture - at Guantánamo Bay and other secret "black sites" across the world, following the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York City. The Guantánamo Bay detention facility is in itself a direct challenge to the civil and political human rights to due process 1 and protection from arbitrary arrest and detention. 2 Of the 154 people still imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay from 22 different countries, 76 of them have long since been cleared for release by the US government, and 45 of them are being held even though the US government admitted that it lacked the necessary evidence to bring formal charges of any kind. In total, the US has imprisoned 779 people there - at least 21 have been children, the youngest of whom was only 13 years old (ACLU 2014). Techniques of torture used on suspects and detainees at Guantánamo and other detention/rendition sites "included waterboarding, which produces a sensation of drowning, stress positions, sleep deprivation for up to 11 days at a time, confinement in a cramped box, slaps and slamming detainees into walls" (Watkins, Landay, and Taylor 2014). The international community has repeatedly condemned CIA torture programs as a violation of international law (UDHR, Article 5; ICCPR, Article 7), but up until this point the US Justice department, CIA, and Department of Defense have argued vehemently that the interrogation techniques were legal, and did not amount to torture ("cruel and unusual punishment") as defined by the 8th Amendment of the US Constitution. Previous arguments by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel stated that methods like waterboarding were not torture because those carrying out the interrogations "didn't have the specific intent of inflicting severe pain or suffering" (Watkins, Landay, and Taylor 2014).
However, the newly leaked report punches holes in these already questionable legal claims. It includes evidence that "The CIA used interrogation methods that weren't approved by the Justice Department of CIA headquarters. The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program. The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program. The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own inspector general's office" (Watkins, Landay, and Taylor 2014). In addition, the report calls into question the thesis of former Bush administration officials and award-winning film Zero Dark Thirty - what comedian Bill Maher rightfully called a "despicable product placement for torture" - that techniques like waterboarding were somehow effective in the pursuit and prosecution of Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders. Indeed, the defenders of US torture programs in pursuit of the disastrous "war on terror" in the Middle East and North Africa cannot argue their efficacy, even on the now tired basis of "national security" and "keeping people safe." These programs, and the efforts of Bush and Obama administration officials to passionately defend their legality and legitimacy, at the same time refusing to even co